Craving for Cabilao Island!

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Isn’t this blenny adorable?

Still our penchant for seeking less known sites is limitless. As we all knew, the island province of Bohol is a gem, it is undoubtedly replete with many wonders.  Last year, we felt so blessed after diving in the town of Anda – it was incredibly rich we regret discovering it just lately.  So, we were off again to the province and endured multiple mode of transport to reach the town of Loon, finally cruising to this tiny unassuming island one weekend in September. It was a plane, ferry, bus and tiny boat ride all to Cabilao Island.  The island has been in my list years back but the arduous trip that won’t surely fit on a weekend deterred the schedule.  Recently, Angel discovered reaching the other side of Bohol via Tubigon, definitely shorter and cheaper than via Tagbilaran! So, as soon as I got back from the July rendezvous, I booked my Cebu tickets for this trip.

All in a Rush

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Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained, homey & environment friendly haven. Add diving, and that’s all too perfect for me!

Another hectic weekend awaits us, so things were all in a rush but thanks God all our transport connections went fluidly as planned.  We were catching our breath as we do not want to be late, Europeans are time conscious and it is discourteous to keep others waiting.  We arrived and welcomed warmly at Polaris Dive Resort just in the nick of time, enough to have a quick but relaxing breakfast and gather ourselves for the day’s dives. DM Jun assured us not to rush, we were informed that three couples (all Deutsch) were booked for the day obviously we were arranged to join them.

Pulo Hospitality

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Hey, can you find the harlequin shrimp?  🙂

The location and amenities of the resort was impressive and exactly what one needs for an escape, add diving and that’s perfect haven for me. J We geared up after the preliminaries and piled all eight divers in the boat for our first descent at the Lighthouse, which was a short 5-minute ride south of resort shores. We dropped unto a sandy slope filled with soft corals down to a wall, we chance upon a colony of garden eels which quickly hid in their burrows when we got near.  I’m always fascinated with them, and again I paused and waited they would come out again, they did slowly inch by inch!  We stumbled on macros – few nudis, glass shrimp and a crab mimicking on soft coral. Every turn we peek on corals for critters. The highlights for me was the yellow

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Face to face with a yellow frogfish!

frogfish perched on a large plank of yellow rubber coral surrounded by crinoids, adapting its yellow surroundings. I waited it would yawn, but it only opened its mouth a bit perhaps catching some air, at least it was not upset with our intrusion in its abode. It was a good subject directly facing us, so the Deutsch divers feasted for photos! We explored more – the perennial clown fish forever teasing over anemones, ghost pipefish like dead leaves (!), stonefish and nudis again.  Then over a sandy part, our DM pointed out a couple of black/white organism clinging on rubber coral, poking a bit it went white all over – it turns out to be an egg cowrie!  We linger for our safety stop over a sandy slope covered with corals and sea grasses and found last minute a stonefish, hairy crab on bubble coral and a herd of striped eel fish. We separated from the group and ascend by ourselves in the shallows towards the shore, after 90 minutes.  I still have 60 bars with 29.7 meters as our deepest.  So far, this was my longest bottom time!

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Macros are everywhere, a crab was secretly hiding among this colorful soft coral!

Our surface interval was spent for our light but relaxing lunch of penne pesto pasta and korbis soup, we had enough time too for some breather in our cottage. The quiet surroundings under the swaying coconuts and trees with blooming hibiscus would surely lull you to sleep. J  I have to drag myself from the rattan duyan for our next dive at 2pm.

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A scorpion fish!

The afternoon descent is at The Chapel, which is nearby too parallel the resort shores.  It is located near a small chapel which according to DM Jun where fishers drop-by before setting off to fish.  Our DM promised a diverse marine life in this lowly site.  Indeed, we dropped off on a colourful reef where in few minutes we found the electric clams, they lurk on overhangs or crevices and emit somewhat vibrating lights from their opening.  Angel pointed out to me a shy moray with its head barely out from its hole, it didn’t like our intrusion.  L Then a harlequin shrimp barely noticeable clinging on soft flowery coral, glass shrimps on anemone, another minute shrimp on flat hardened surface over anemones, few nudis – critters were everywhere! We went on a swim-through with our DM carefully navigating getting a streamlined test, it was perfectly smooth! A lone silver barracuda was teasing us, wondering where its companions are.  Damsels, groupers, triggers, sand perch, wrasses, chromis, fusiliers, butterfly fish, angels, anthias and more. There was this adorable blenny peeking from its abode as if giving us a hello, its curiosity was endearing. We were having our wrap-up as we get off for our safety stop, when a large herd of striped barracudas appeared in view.  We swam quick before we lost them, it was incredible that at five meters we got a full view of the herd! J I still have 80 bars when we ascend after 73 minutes.  It was wonderful, with lot of sightings and diverse environment we were more than an hour underwater for both dives.  My heart was filled with gratefulness for all the discoveries.

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Parading in the coral fields!

We pass-off for night dives and choose to unwind at the patio savoring the twilight glow and eventually had a quiet alfresco dinner listening to the waves behind us. The day was just full deserving a good night’s rest.

Final Touch

Leaving the island wasn’t complete without attending an early mass at the Centro, exploring the shoreline towards the Lighthouse and Punta Baluarte Eco-Museum. It offers a lovely view of the sea minus the crowd and modern development, just sheer island charm and unspoiled serene setting.

Hidden, idyllic and purely designed for unwinding,  another unmatched destination just waiting to be explored and enjoyed is Cabilao Island. Actually,  it’s more than just a destination, it’s an experience!

Travel Notes:

  1. My itinerary for this trip
  • Last night flight from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu, 740pm – 50 minutes
  • First trip ferry to Tubigon, 445am – 2 hours
  • Van ride to Mocpoc, Loon – 1 hour
  • Habal ride to Pier – 15 minutes
  • Boat ride to Talisay, Cabilao pier – 10 minutes
  • Habal ride to Polaris Dive Resort – 10 minutes
  • Return trip has same route leaving the island early, to catch the last flight to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu
  1. With the above itinerary, there is a need to stay overnight in metro Cebu
  2. Ferries for Cebu-Tubigon route & vice versa has several trips daily, in Cebu they sail from Pier Uno
  3. Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained homey environment friendly resort which houses a 5-star PADI dive shop, lies in the western side obviously offering daily sunsets
  4. The tiny triangular island of Cabilao off Loon town is literally surrounded with at least 14 dive sites
  5. “Pulo” is a Cebuano term for island

 

Seeking Sipalay

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Colorful life in a different dimension!

Coming to the southern part of Negros Occidental has been in our agenda but its time-consuming trip via Cebu & Dumaguete kept me stalling the plan, it needed a much longer weekend and at least three days leave considering no-fly intervals after dives. Fortunately, direct flights to Bacolod from Cagayan de Oro (via Cebu Pacific) suddenly opened last summer, such advantage that could mean shorter travel time! Without second thought, I booked my flights over the third weekend of July for that long – awaited dive trip, I could hardly wait.  My dive buddy simply can’t resist not to join!

Once I landed in Bacolod, I had so much to discover and fill my cravings – especially that Bascon Café, Pendy’s & Tom Tom’s Cafe was just a stone’s throw from my hostel. My sweet palate succumbed to half-moons and napoleones – only the best at Pendy’s and get much filled with the generous eggs benedict at Bascon’s! J Such a treat!  The following morning I heard an early mass at the old San Sebastian Cathedral.

Artistic Diving

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Branching table corals this wide is common!

The town of Sipalay is more than 130 kilometers south of Bacolod, the aircon bus that I took crawled from town to town until we arrived after 6 hours, it was uneventful though the trip gave me a glimpse of the rural setting of the province.  The only production area I remembered was sugar cane fields but none for the staples.  I finally arrived at Punta Ballo after a trike ride, my host who waited & constantly sent me SMS while on the road, perfectly gave me a warm welcome. Artistic Diving Resort sat on a quiet spot in Campomanes Bay that has exclusive beach, most importantly it houses a 5-star PADI dive shop. I waited for that golden sunset but it didn’t show up, the skies were overcast that afternoon.

Angel caught up with me early the next morning giving him enough time for a quick nap to freshen up after the long ride from Bacolod, we were expected at 9am at the dive shop.

Eva’s Point and Toscana

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Giant clams in hiding!

We told DM Johan that we are hoping to explore the wreck in the bay but it was raining in the past days so the viz wasn’t good enough. So, for our first descent he suggested for Eva’s Point which is located at the edge of Campomanes Bay. We geared up amid the drizzle hoping it won’t rain hard, with one Deutsch diver joining us.  The boat sailed shortly northward and dropped anchors twenty minutes later, the waves rocking us bit. We descend to a reef with scattered hard corals, a lobster hiding in a crevice greeted us

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Lacy nudi, Have you seen this before?

with its waving antlers, there were at least three I noticed. There were giant clams among the corals, nudis, wide table corals, crinoids, sea fans and sponges.  I lingered over soft corals with glass shrimps perhaps feeding on parasites, then a herd of shrimpfish with their synchronized swimming show.  There’s one nudi that caught my attention, a fat white bodice with black lacy pattern all over, it was something new to me. There were snappers, batfish, wrasse, triggerfish, trumpetfish, damsels, pipefish and more.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop, just going around the colorful coral field feeling its vastness.  Just as we passed over a sandy slope, our DM signaled for something floating, indeed it was the ghost pipefish appearing like brown dried leaf, it was alone. But a couple appeared also, I guess the area is a playground of the specie.  We lingered more and found Christmas tree worms and more clams and just before we surfaced sighted a crown of thorns.  It turned out that the visibility was good more than we expected.  I still had 100 bars when we ascend after 70 minutes!

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Turtles are simply adorable!

Our surface interval was unhurried and relaxing, spent accordingly for our late lunch and rest, and got back at the dive shop at 2pm.  We geared up once more aiming for Toscana which is located closer to the resort, another Deutsch diver joined us in the afternoon dive.

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Have you seen a ghost underwater?

It was just a short boat ride but the waters more rough, in our short briefing we join DM Johan while the Deutsch couple with the dive guide, we descend immediately after we rolled back unto a slope with vibrant corals.  We found a turtle resting on the corals, so friendly it didn’t swim away when we got near and so we had ample time just watching it and taking more photos!  There was these two jackfish which curiously followed us perhaps wondering what critters we are. J We found more clams, hydroids and sponges and variety of soft corals.  We went through a canal-like channel looking for critters but my attention was caught up making sure of a smooth passage never disturbing the spot. Nudis, sea cucumbers, anemones and sea whips also adorn the reef and it is as diverse with Eva’s Point.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop again absorbed with the colourful domain.  I still had 120 bars when we ascend after 54 minutes.

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An early Christmas greeting! 🙂

Both of the sites had remarkable coral reefs and diverse marine life, there are at least more than ten sites in Campomanes Bay excluding the two wrecks. Now, there’s very good reason to be back in Punta Ballo for more discoveries.  DM Johan reminded us that the best time to visit for dives in the area is between November to May.

I guess not only for Punta Ballo, but Sipalay as a whole as we barely explored the city.  Indeed, coming for good reasons and waiting for the right time is a sound guiding principle in finding a destination. Yet, that golden sunset in Sugar Beach is tickling my curiosity.  I must be back in the city, it’s a promise!

Heights and Depths!

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Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Adventures for the intrepid can be as varied as far one can go, many travelers have become so audacious and ambitious as if motivated in conquering one goal after another.

After years of diving and continually aiming for off beaten sites, I realized there are still a lot of places around the country that needs to be explored.  I have learned so much from my travels and in many ways have gained new insights especially destinations that are closest to nature.  The rural scenery is almost and always a plethora of learning and new understanding of our culture, the environment and wide issues of protection and preservation.

There are few places that are close to my heart, destinations that are perhaps distant and advance arrangements are necessary, yet the urge to keep coming back was hard to resist.  Much that I love the depths, I am always fascinated by heights.  So that, a combination of both in a trip, is a real indulgence, actually a luxury. Climbing a peak or searching the depths is a real show of grandeur in all scheme of things!

Coron – Climb Mt. Tapyas and dive in Coron Bay

One of my favorite dive destination is Coron due its collection of World War II wrecks, the underwater museum have tickled my curiosity and I have tons of write-up about the mysterious wrecks. I was always blown away every time we penetrated the old ships, these silent monsters abandoned in the depths. My visits to Coron though, is not complete without climbing Mt. Tapyas to catch glimpse of my beautiful sunset. I guess sunsets are more spectacular to watch from a mountain top.  I would linger just watching, killing my time looking the horizons getting a good view of the changing hues.  Until the golden sun would finally ebbed down and the white cross would light up.

Tawi-Tawi – Climb Bud Bongao and dive in Bongao waters

This southern most cluster of islands in the country is not a touristy one, in fact some if not most would think twice before coming to Tawi-tawi.  Coming here was one of my most memorable trip, the discoveries were too precious to ignore.  We visited here during Ramadan and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the market was oozing with people and there was great array of food!  The locals were friendly and helpful, the town is naturally peaceful.

We climb Bud Bongao the day we arrived, we trek and were welcomed by the macaque monkeys with our banana offerings. Bud is the highest point of the province, the view was just unmistakably breath taking!  The three dives the next day was a great opportunity to explore the rich surrounding waters of the islands.  Well, the currents made it challenging! The heights and depths combination was just marvelous!

Southern Cebu – Trek Osmeña Peak, traverse to Kawasan Falls and dive in Moalboal

Well, this is actually a combination of three! The southern towns in Cebu have its own charms, so that in these three towns you have equally remarkable adventures.  Drive to Mantalungon in Dalaguete, trek to Osmeña Peak and be amazed with those peaks shaped like peanut kisses! Trek down the fourteen kilometers trail and traverse to Badian right in Kawasan Falls, rafting and taking a dip in its aquamarine waters is truly refreshing!  Stay in the next town of Moalboal and dive in its waters replete with diverse marine life. The awesome sardine’s run is too hard to resist, I came here again and again because of it.  Pescador Island is also a renowned site, the sightings here are too good to be true, mind blowing as they say!

Camiguin Island – Trek Mt. Hibokhibok, traverse to Ardent Hot Springs and dive in its waters

There a lot of reasons to be back here again and again, this island is also my favorite. It’s practically dense with nature wonders. Volcanoes, falls, hot and cold springs, islets, rich marine life and more!  Climb Mt. Hibok-Hibok, this active volcano is safe for trekking and it can be done in a day. The view in the peak is undoubtedly breath taking, but it was foggy when we reached the top. We were surrounded with white clouds, the trail was challenging at different levels.  It has a total of fourteen kilometers from Yumbing and traverse to Ardent, right in the hot spring pools!  A dip is undoubtedly a good relaxant after the arduous trek.

The island is perfect for diving – from marine sanctuaries, coastal reefs to sunken cemetery!  There’s a lot of choices and this island province is literally surrounded with dive sites in its coastal waters.  Mantigue Island is a must, so with sunken cemetery, Old Vulcan, white island and many more. All of the sites are practically filled with diverse marine life.

These are just few, I know there are a lot of destinations around the country with this ridge to reef combinations. New learning, precious discoveries and the realization that every place has its own share of wonders and the God of order have made everything in nature in accord with all scheme of things.

Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Balingoan: Underwater Paradise

By Angel C. Juarez
A Post written in Health & Home, August 2016 issue

In my continuous chase for offbeat dive sites in the country, I got a chance to explore the underwater treasures in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Heading to Barangay Mantangale with my perennial dive buddy Ate Claudia from Cagayan de Oro City one day I was enthralled with the unspoiled beauty under the waters of this laid back municipality.  Indeed, the place is one of the most underrated dive spots in the country.  While most tourists frequent Balingoan only as a jump-off point to Camiguin Island, for some like us, it is already a destination.  It is a small piece of underwater paradise that will definitely keep us coming back again and again.

Finding Balingoan

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Mantangale and Sipaka as seen from Balingoan Port

Balingoan is two hours north of Cagayan de Oro City, unknown to many, the waters around this small town that stretch toward Camiguin bustle with vivid underwater life.  Without a doubt, Balingoan is one of my favorite place in the Philippines for scuba diving for two reasons: its rich marine life and the absence of tourist traffic that  popular dive sites get.  This means Balingoan is generally unspoiled and unexploited!

Sipaka Point

One of Balingoan’s known diving spots is Sipaka Point.  Its sloping white and sandy bed is an ideal site for students and divers of all levels.  It is a perfect site for macro photography as well.  Ten meters down Sipaka Point is beautiful reef adorned with colorful corals and crinoids, and home to small tropical fishes and marine creatures.  Fishes like anthias, wrasses, angelfish, pufferfish, anemonefish, lionfish, groupers, and eels abound in the reef.  So do lobsters, cuttlefish, glass and harlequin shrimps, and different species of nudibranches.

Talisayan Shoal

Not far from Sipaka Point is Talisayan Shoal, a ten minute boat ride from the coast of Mantangale and a known spot for the colorful mandarin fish.  It was already sunset when we descended down into the vast coral area of Talisayan Shoal. Armed with underwater torches, we maneuvered around the area on search for the rare mandarin fish.  We saw the usual tropical reef fishes and other macro species such as shrimps and crabs, but not the rare mandarin fish.  When my torch ran out of battery, we ascend for our safety stop.  Darkness had already enveloped the surroundings as we sailed back to the shores.  When I look into the water, I saw glowing bioluminous organisms as they were washed away by the boat.  Indeed, the sea is a vast mystery and humans will never completely understand the life beneath.

Banaug Shoal

Three years after our first dive affair with Balingoan. We returned to its depths to experience and explore more of its treasures.  It was Banaug Shoal this time.  It wasn’t my first time to dive here but I was excited as it were my first.  We left for Banaug Shoal by speed boat.  This shoal is the house reef of Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), which for me is one of the best house reefs I have ever dived into.  The diversity of marine life in this dense space is unbelievable and the explosion of underwater colors never ceases to amaze me.  Snappers, butterflyfish, moorish idols, boxfish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, trigger fish and a lot more species graced our dives as well as sea slugs and other macro species.  They all made the small reef, carpeted with soft and hard corals, their home.

Lapinig Island

After our surface interval, we sailed from Mantangale to Lapinig Island, the islet in front of Balingoan Port.  It looks dull and boring on the surface, but what’s underwater is a different story.  It’s an action- packed world down there!  Not minding the mild current, we gradually descend on a sandy slope hoping to see manta rays.  There are reported sightings of manta rays in the site although not regular.  It wasn’t our lucky day though, as no manta ray showed up.  But the usual reef and macro species such as striped fish, trumpet fish, nudis, bristle worms, and others that I don’t know by name, made the dive an awesome one.  Soft and hard corals, sea fans, feather stars and sponges also added color to the scenery.  Sadly, some trashes scattered around the place due to its proximity to the port and residential area.  We ended up fishing out trashes, turning our dive into a clean-up drive!

Looking forward to coming Back

My Balingoan dives are truly memorable and I look forward to more underwater explorations and discoveries in the town.  The sea is a deep stash of treasures and surprises that I won’t get tired of exploring.  I can’t wait for another rendezvous with underwater creatures of Balingoan in the years to come.

Disclosures:
Angel C. Juarez of http://www.lakwatsero.com has been my dive buddy since few years back. I met him nine years ago during a Coron trip, four months later he became a certified diver. We have a lot of common favorite dive destinations and Mantangale is just one of them. Our last dive in the area was just this February 2017.

The Allures of Antique

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Every dive is like celebrating the ocean wonders and consequently proclaiming the exquisiteness of God’s creation.

We were back in the province this summer, it was unplanned.  My mind was entertaining the thought of the possible sighting of giant humphead wrasses in Pandan, my buddy got some secret information from a local.  Trusting and believing it was a reliable source, we changed plans and cancelled the Ticao Pass prospect.  My personal objective was purely economics, diving in Masbate was way expensive and requires two to three days leave on my part, weekend is practically out of order.  For me, time and expenses are always of the essence. It was a good decision in the end, there were changes of my Legazpi flights so I got it cancelled at no cost with a full refund!

Pandan Depths

It was a long road to Pandan, having flown to Iloilo we need at least four hours to reach this northern town. Yes, another offbeat dive destination and I was grateful there was available dive operator in the area.  Our dawn bus ride went fluid alright, traversing interior towns passing Banga, Kalibo, Ibajay until we got off at Nabas intersection for Pandan. We arrived at the diveshop before our appointed time and enough spare for the preliminaries. Our Austrian DM explained that it started raining already and we were lucky for a sunny Saturday but the waters could be bit hazy. There were no others booked for the day so it turned out to be an exclusive dive for us.

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Anemone in bloom surrounded by wiggling juveniles and guarded by clownfish family

Our first descent was at Mag-aba Deep Wall, it was deep indeed but the plan was at 32 meters and I guess there was no need to go much deeper, it was rich and colorful even at 25 meters.  It was bit hazy with suspended particles but still vibrant as it is! There were large sea fans in yellows and orange lining the wall, there were crinoids, barrel sponges and nudis. We inspected crevices, search around and float weightlessly. We found triggers, sweet lips, snappers and the colorful wiggling juvenile anthias.  Of course, the anemones with the playful clownfish caught my attention, trying for some photos but it was still hazy and not enough light.  We ascend after 55 minutes, with my air still at 80 bars, my deepest at 31.9 meters.

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This colorful reef has in every inch filled with life!

Out surface interval was spent on the boat as we move to our next site, DM Nikki entertained us with his stories mentioning offbeat sites islands away.  But there was no mention of the giant humpheads, perhaps he has no knowledge or maybe it was just a myth. Suddenly, it went downcast and started to rain with the matching lightning. Our interval went longer as we waited for the sun to shine again, but nil.  DM Nikki hesitated for the next descent with the weather condition, the rain stopped but it was still dark. It’s our take if we want, but in my mind it was a long trip and definitely one dive isn’t enough! Angel was hesitant too but I needed his consent, after a little prodding he agreed but warned not to go far from him. My face was splitting with a big smile. Lah!  🙂

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I was imagining Medusa’s head!

We splashed for our last descent at Patria Aquarium, and it was giving me hint why it was so called as such!  🙂 The good thing is even if it was stormy, the water was warm and calm, there was never any hint of current. We descend to a slope decorated with corals and resident fishes until we got into fish traps, I do still cringe seeing one underwater.  It was sort of abandoned but I saw a long trumpet fish trapped inside, I watched and wondered how long would it take the poor trumpet to get out.  We swam taking our time watching the anthias, snappers, damsels, banded wrasse and the perennial variety of clownfish.  There were blooms of anemones around, there was a shrimp couple lurking in a crevice with its long antlers waving. I summoned Angel to come over for my finds, he was  watching me from afar. There were fish everywhere more than I can count and name all, it was so peaceful. The anemone bloom took my time away, just watching the colorful animal surrounded with wiggling fish other than the clowns. I hovered round and round and I stayed longer in that small colorful reef with active marine life. Indeed it was like an aquarium! Unmindful of time, I was stunned my NDL went down to 1 minute at 13 meters, left with no choice but to swam up slowly.  We ascend after 62 minutes with my air still at 80 bars.  It was good and what a waste if we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the dark skies!

Seeking Serenity

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A piece of serenity….

Aiming for Seco Island as side trip the next day, we rushed to Tibiao after our dives and spent overnight at Fish Spa. Arrangements were made, all we need to do is drag ourselves out of bed for the 4am boat cruise departure. But alas, there was no sign of life when we woke up the next morning , it was dark and quiet. Obviously, it was cancelled and we went back to sleep.

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Trekking the hills was part of Malalison Island experience!

We opted to proceed to Culasi for Malalison Island, another gem in Antique sought by many.  Cruising to the island is easier being organized by local tourism office, but like other tourist destination it becomes over crowded. The white beach is packed by weekenders, old and young alike.  We went beyond the waterfront and trek the hills (with a guide) under the sun, the surroundings become brownish, the greens withered from the summer heat. The hills are not alive yet still fascinating in a way!

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Perfect for swimming or just lounging on the white beach…

Trekking the rolling hills in its midst offered serenity, only a handful went for the trek. It was bit arduous but discovering the other side of the island was rewarding.  There was another white beach, secluded and had a fantastic view. It was not crowded, just perfect for swimming. Perhaps, some other time we can frolic and just relax, even stay longer in the island. We sat silently watching the horizon, watching people until our boat came to fetch us.

No giant humphead wrasse and no Seco Island but it was sure a captivating trip to Antique!

Disclosures

DM Nikki gave us discount in our diving bills because he found us “nice”, maybe he meant we are well-behaved or courteous.  He offered us to come back again next summer  for diving and overnight camping to an off beat island!  🙂

This trip was like driving through going full circle of the province south-north-south, having Iloilo City as my point of entry and exit.

Our Seco Island cruise was cancelled as there were no boatman willing for the trip, it was the town’s fiesta that day!

Cortes: The Kujaw Pride

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Lush sea grasses, corals and marine plants…

Our quest for off beaten sites is still going on, that spirit of curiosity is never put to rest and so we continue to explore and hunt from island to island.  And most often such locations are remote, far-flung and most likely unheard of in terms of tourism radar. The town is off the national highway en route to other Surigao Sur municipalities. It is practically off-road, a separated land mass like an annex facing directly the Pacific Ocean.

I met up with Angel in Tandag after sleepless rides and again, it was another long trip for almost ten hours.  Saturdays or weekends for that matter are always in a relaxing mode for the town folks but fortunately there were people in the Tourism Office just beside the Kujaw Diveshop, perhaps due to forthcoming national elections.  We waited for our contact Archie (an LGU staff) who made arrangements for the day’s dives, he lives in a barangay outside the town.

Kujaw Depths

Our first descent was in Poblacion, it was yet high tide, but water movements shifting for the low tide was intense, carrying one back to the shallows, finning hard was necessary and it was just exhaustive!  The visibility wasn’t good enough, there had been rains in the past few days and it was fortunate that it was sunny! We found pipefish, Moorish idol, angels, triggerfish, snappers and unicorn fish.  There was these three snappers who were inseparable and keep by side near me, perhaps they were siblings and was wondering what kind of black fish I am.  🙂  And there was a herd of barracuda somewhat obscure from my point, which Angel tried to swim after, I thought it was trevally! We went around, found a patch of branching corals, and the white sand ripples underwater brought by the water movements.  After 45 minutes we ascend, our deepest at 18.2 meters.

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A field of branching corals obviously competing with one another

Our surface interval was spent on the boat, Jun and Ramil (our guides) have lot of stories about Cortes and its efforts in the preservation and protection of its marine environment. They were all praises for their Mayor (vehemently against mining), they recalled that dynamite fishing was a common practice even in neighboring towns. Now,  the surrounding  waters is teeming with fish life.  The fisher folks need to observe the spawning season, strictly no fishing is allowed during the period and they perfectly understood the reason.  The local government labored for the information and education campaign, respectively livelihood projects were initiated for the people.

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Giant clams abound in the area

Our second descent was in Uba Marine Sanctuary, the current was still moving as the water recede for the low tide. There were rock formations, some cavern and crevices.  There were variety of anthias, clown fish and herds of yellow breams.  There was patch of sea grasses, which I keep holding on as I went around, the waves current is pushing me back.  We went round and round in the shallows. After 63 minutes, I signaled for ascent as the tide movements was getting rough.

Kujaw Side-trips

After checking in our refuge, we make most of the remaining time in the afternoon.  We were aiming for the Laswitan Lagoon, the town has been known for this natural wonder. The gigantic waves from the Pacific whip up the rock formation along the coast, creating like Falls.  It was not in season anymore so what we got were clear pools trapped by rock formations.  The good thing was it was calm and so serene, it was not filled with people.   It was already late, but our guide still made us to Lubcon Falls. Just a bit off the highway near the boundary to next town, a small dirt road led to this small falls.  Its cold waters was refreshing enough after a long day.  It was almost dark and it was all to ourselves, our dip was quick but the sound of the gushing waters was a calming assurance of nature’s peace and tranquility, like a soothing balm for weary souls.

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Such a welcome from a purple/yellow tree worm!

Everything in Cortes is about simple living obviously not yet spoiled by technology advancement and so called development.

Unconsciously I mentioned Cortes as my latest destination in one of work chitchats and they were asking where? Sometimes even locals are surprised such unheard town can have wonderful marine environment.  I almost joked it is in Mexico!

NO, this obscure town is not struggling for visibility, but the sincerity of the local officials and the cooperation of its people have made this community compliant to sanitation, environmental preservation & protection issues that are required for coastal communities.  Cortes has been afforded numerous awards including the Para El Mar MPA Award as one of the most outstanding MPA in Mindanao (for Uba Marine Sanctuaty). This humble town is undoubtedly worthy for a visit, you wont go home empty -hearted!  🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip:
    To Cortes:         CdeO to Butuan by AC bus (10PM) – 4.5 hours
    Butuan to Tandag by ordinary bus – 5 hours
    Tandag to Cortes by multicab – 30 minutes
    From Cortes:     Cortes to Tandag by multicab
    Tandag to San Francisco (Agusan Sur) by AC van
    San Francisco to Butuan by AC bus
    Butuan to CdeO by AC bus
  2. Lodgings available in town are limited to Kamalig (home stay) and the guest house of Philippine Independent Church, advance bookings necessary.
  3. Dive bookings are handled by Kujaw Diveshop, a LGU operated diving facility housed just beside the Municipal Tourism Office. They have boat, complete diving gears, tanks and compressor for air refilling
  4. Other natural spots in town worth visiting are beaches, caves, Lubcon Falls,  and  Laswitan Lagoons/Falls in which the town is known for
  5. Single motors and habal-habal are available for hire for transport needs.
  6. Kujaw is a Surigaonon word for kuyaw (Visayan) which means dreadful, horrible, alarming, appalling or shocking but for Cortes in a positive way
  7. The Kujaw Team who assisted us in our trip and whom we are grateful were Archie, Jun, Ramil and Elpedio

Diving in SarBay!

In February we head for General Santos for a dive trip, it was a quick decision although there have been previous attempts, but deferred as I was thinking of the long land trip from Cagayan de Oro.  My friends in our special project  at work had been long recommending for the south, urging the richness of the bay.  Of course, SarBay has always been known as the tuna country being one of the biggest domestic sources for yellow fin tunas both in the local and foreign markets. It goes without saying that its depths held rich marine life and well-preserved environment being hardly reached for water adventures.

The long trip to General Santos left me sleepless but my transpo connections went fluidly so I arrived earlier and have more than enough time for rest, and later explored the city by myself.  The city has a diveshop I found in the net like three years ago but on a hunch I chose the one located at Tampuan Point in Maasim, the western town near the mouth of the bay. As it is, my dive buddy always afforded me to decide for the details of our dive trip, he has trusted my judgment for the necessary arrangements.

Probing Tampuan Point

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The depths is replete with diverse marine life!

Angel caught up with me very early the next morning for the dives, too early he had almost four-hour nap to freshen up from the sleepless trip to the city.  Rushing up in the morning, we arrived at Lemlunay Resort somewhat delayed from our promised time, but was grateful we were not yet late. They started to prepare for the gears when we caught them up at the shop.  A bunch of male divers were there already, I guess they were bit surprised of a lady joining them.  In a way, I tried my best not to let my presence an intrusion to them. 🙂

Our first descent was at the Kamanga Marine Sanctuary just a bit off the resort, but we still got into the boat (with no gangplank). It was high tide and the Tinoto Sandbar I was hoping to see was nowhere in sight.  Sir Joel was our head DM and Nolan as our guide, the guys were a bunch.  The instruction was to stay close the wall, currents can be strong which can pull one down and away to the deep blue.  We drifted awhile passing whips, sea fans and soft corrals until the current got stronger.  Our DM signaled to get away from the wall and seek refuge up the slope. We circled around up the wide sandy area until we sighted the turtle, everybody moved swiftly and the poor turtle scampered away!  We found a herd of shrimpfish, angels, moorish idol sand perchs, clownfish and variety of juveniles.  We found cluster of concrete reef mounds scattered around the area as fish shelters. It was a different kind of model, indeed lot of tropical fish like chromis, damsels, sergeants and anthias hovering over and down the mounds.  The turtle appeared again but swam quickly away seeing us!  As we prepared for our ascent, a blue ribbon eel came into view as if some closure of our search!  We ascend after 48 minutes, my deepest  at 23.9 meters with my air still at 110 bars.

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Reef mounds scattered in the marine park serve as marine life shelters

We had a treat of warm divers’ soup as we got up in the shop and spent our surface interval lounging near the infinity pool watching the blue horizons.  🙂

Our second descent was still at the sanctuary off the Tinoto Reef, I think the healthy environment of the depths is owed to the concretes domes installed in the area, the artificial reef greatly enhanced the marine life. Our DM after learning of our dive sites quest around the country was bit pressured to find us something interesting in our dives. We shun away from the currents and as we went around sighted nudis, shrimpfish again, chromis and damsels. Obviously, the diverse marine life of the reef is a clear proof being awarded as one of the most outstanding marine protected area of the Para El Mar MPA Awards.  As we lingered on hoping to find a rare specie, I caught up with our DM inspecting a crevice on hard corals, he found two bulging eyes protruding.  At first, I tried to figure out what it was, something strange. It was upset, it came out – an octopus! It was my first sighting of a cephalopod in its habitat – pure amazing!  It didn’t fled away, but courageously stood its ground and before it left, shoot a cloud of black ink, then left nonchalantly in front of us! It was a show, an actual observation of the specie’s behavior. 🙂  After 51 minutes, we ended our dive still amazed of our last find.  I went 26.9 meters as deepest, my air still at 100 bars.

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Seeking refuge on the slope, the currents went tricky!

It was worth the trip, the probe was more than successful and without doubt a future schedule for dive trip in this corner of Mindanao would be in order.  I am convince there are more amazing finds in the SarBay depths just waiting for curious souls!   🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip was:
    Cagayan de Oro  to    Davao       –   12mn Rural Transit tourist bus  (6 hours)

Davao to GenSan                          –    7:30am Yellow Bus Line tourist bus (3 hours)

  1. GenSan to Tampuan Point is 26 kilometers approximately 45 minutes travel by van
  2. The next town of Kiamba (Sarangani Province) has established a marine park, the LGU also offered diving in the marine sanctuary
  3. Again, the moon cycle should be considered when scheduling a dive trip, the current in the bay can be so tricky!
  4. Dive rate is considerably good, we paid only PhP 1,800.00/pax for two dives including gears.
  5. South Point Divers shop is housed at Lemlunay Resort, the owner of the resort is the head dive instructor, Mr. Paul Partridge whom we met during our surface interval.
  6. Lemlunay, which, in the B’laan and T’Boli tongues, roughly means “the good place one goes to in the afterlife”.